Heisman or not, Michael Penix Jr. cemented his legacy in the CFP semifinal


NEW ORLEANS — Michael Penix Jr. came to Seattle two years ago hoping to revive his career. He will leave as a Huskies legend.

On the biggest stage of his career, Penix turned in his best performance, completing 29 of 38 passes for 430 yards as Washington’s offense stunned Texas in a 37-31 victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to advance to the national championship game. of the College Football Playoff. .

“[He made the] “And with a good defense like the one we faced today in Texas, he resorted to all the tools he has and the skills that make him special and make him the best player in college football, in my opinion.”

After finishing as a Heisman runner-up and leading the Huskies to the playoffs, Penix had already secured a prominent place in UW history and now has the chance to walk away as perhaps the most revered figure in UW history. school.

“I don’t know if the Heisman Trophy can transfer or how that works, but man, he’s the best in the nation to do it, and I’ve known that for a long time,” said Washington receiver Rome Odunze, who finished with six catches. for 125 yards. “Unfortunately, I feel like the media and everyone outside hasn’t paid enough attention. He’s special and he’s fought through adversity, and here he is shining on the biggest stage.”

Against the Longhorns, Penix’s deep passing accuracy and quick releases were evident almost immediately. He hit Ja’Lynn Polk for a 77-yard strike on his first down of the game and, as he has done all season, consistently found advantageous matchups the rest of the game.

When targeting the Huskies’ top three playmakers (Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Polk), Penix was 16 of 17 for 305 yards. Texas had no answer for the trio that formed arguably the most talented receiving corps in the country. Penix, who entered the game as the national leader in passing yards, eclipsed the season’s 4,500-yard mark to become the first FBS quarterback to achieve that in consecutive seasons since Patrick Mahomes in 2015-16.

He was 7-for-10 passing for 15-plus yards on the field for 257 yards and was also effective with his legs, rushing for 31 yards on three carries, picking up a pair of key first downs.

When Penix finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, he downplayed it and told his teammates that he cared more about the team’s success and what they still had to play for.

“As far as the Heisman thing goes, that’s over, man. It doesn’t matter,” Penix said. “Right now, man, we’re looking to win the national championship. That’s been my goal since Day 1.”

Those teammates, however, were less diplomatic about the result and saw it as a slight toward the team as a whole.

“We were very disappointed,” Odunze said. “Honestly, that was probably one of the most disappointing things we’ve experienced all season. Fortunately, no, we haven’t had a loss, so that was, in a way, our loss.”

In the two seasons Penix has been with the program, coinciding with the arrival of coach Kalen DeBoer, the Huskies are 25-2 and own the longest winning streak in the FBS at 21 games. It is a streak that has not been without difficult situations, and the victory against Texas was no exception.

Washington couldn’t celebrate until Texas failed to connect in the end zone from 13 yards out on three consecutive plays to end the game.

Much has been made of Washington’s curious status as a betting underdog in its last two games. First, against an Oregon team they had already beaten before. Then on Monday night, against a team that emerged from a lower conference with one loss on its record. In both cases, the Huskies not only kept their winning streak alive, but put on convincing performances that left no doubt as to who was the better team.

“We’ve talked about it for sure,” UW linebacker Carson Bruener said. “In the Pac-12 championship, we were the underdogs. We won the game. In this game, we were the underdogs, we won. I wouldn’t be surprised if for the national championship we were the underdogs again.

“We’ll go out and use it as fire. We love it.”

Against top-ranked Michigan, which beat No. 4 Alabama in the other semifinal, the Huskies will, in fact, be underdogs again, as they opened a 4.5-point underdog, according to ESPN BET.

In 1991, Washington’s path to the national title also passed through Michigan. The Huskies beat the Wolverines, 34-14, in the Rose Bowl to go undefeated and finished the year ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, while Miami was No. 1 in the AP poll. They have played three times since then, and Michigan holds a 3-1 lead, including a 31-10 win in 2021.

Your team knows this year’s version well.

“We talk about the 91 team all the time,” Odunze said. “They had a similar season to us in 1990, our weakest season last year. They didn’t get to the national championship and then they had the slogan [in 1991] “Hungrier than ever.” And that’s been our mentality this year, and we’ve had that hungry mentality to go get it. “We are very close, but the work is not finished yet.”

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